BANGUI (Central African Republic): Sixteen people have been killed in two days of clashes between Fulani herdsmen and the mainly Muslim Seleka militia in the Central African Republic, police said on Tuesday.
The chronically unstable nation is struggling to overcome the legacy of three years of deadly conflict between Christians and Muslims that has driven half a million people from their homes.
“According to an initial toll, 16 people, most of them armed Fulani herdsmen, were killed and more than 20 others were wounded in the clashes,” a police officer in the northern town of Kaga Bandoro told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The clashes, which erupted on Sunday, were not connected to a separate wave of violence in the capital Bangui on Monday in which three people were killed.
The officer said the violence in the north began in the region of Batangafo and spread to the towns of Wandago and Gondava.
The clashes are linked to the annual transhumance of Fulani cattle herdsmen, sometimes from neighbouring Cameroon and Chad, into the north of the Central African Republic.
The herdsmen are often armed to protect themselves from attacks from cattle thieves, and they sometimes stage deadly reprisals against the towns where the rustlers are from.
Kaga Bandoro resident Maurice Yanandji said the clashes on Sunday and Monday forced a number of bush residents to flee into the centre of the town.
Batangafo resident Polycarpe Nzalaye said troops from MINUSCA, the UN peacekeeping force in the country, “intervened and the clashes stopped in the centre of Batangafo”.
At least 10 people were killed last week in northwest in violence blamed on Fulani herdsmen and the Seleka militia.
In a sign of the continuing tensions, three people were killed and hundreds forced to flee their homes after gunfire broke out Monday in Bangui’s predominantly Muslim PK5 neighbourhood.
The deaths followed the kidnapping of six policemen at the weekend, blamed on a rebel group based in PK5. It was unclear if the fighting was connected to the kidnapping.
A police source in Bangui said the three people killed “were members of the (neighbourhood) self-defence force who tried to attack” a police station “and who were prevented by national and international forces.”
He said several people were wounded, some some of them seriously.
CAR, one of the world’s poorest countries, was plunged into chaos by the March 2013 ousting of long-serving president Francois Bozize, a Christian, by the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel alliance.
The coup sparked revenge attacks involving Muslim forces and Christian vigilante groups known as “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) militias.
Thousands were slaughtered in the spiral of atrocities that displaced about a tenth of the population of 4.8 million. Fears of a bloodbath led to a military intervention by former colonial power France and the deployment of UN peacekeepers.